Press Release

Dec 13, 2012

Markey, Leading Democrats Introduce Drought Relief Climate Legislation

Issues: Climate Change and the Coasts


2012 drought on par with worst months of Dust Bowl era

WASHINGTON (December, 13,2012)- This year’s climate-change driven extreme heat has contributed to widespread drought across the United States, with over sixty percent of the nation experiencing some form of drought during 2012. Today, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee and other leading House Democrats introduced legislation to amend the Reclamation States Emergency Drought Relief Act of 1991, a law which empowers the federal Bureau of Reclamation with tools to minimize or mitigate drought damages or losses within the 17 States.

Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-Calif.), the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Water and Power, Rush D. Holt (D-N.J), the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Rep. Raúl  Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Rep. Gregorio Sablan (D-C.N.M.I.), the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs, Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs are original cosponsors.

The legislation reauthorizes and amends the Reclamation’s Drought Relief Act of 1991 to require that drought contingency plans reflect current water conditions and addresses long term climate change plans. Earlier this year, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that 2012 is “virtually certain to become warmest year on record for the nation.”

Rep. Markey said the need for the legislation comes just in time as U.S. crops continue to be cooked by climate change and drought.

“Congress has failed to address extreme weather and climate change, and now with over fifty percent of the country in a state of drought, it’s time for Congress to act and extend this critical piece of program,” said Markey. “2012 is shaping up to be the beginning of this generation’s Dust Bowl. Let’s provide drought relief to farmers and families now, before more livelihoods are destroyed.”

The federally-funded U.S. Drought Monitor reported today that 51.8 percent of the United States is in drought.

Rep. Napolitano who joined Markey in introducing the bill today said, “It was once said that if we fail to plan, we need to plan to fail. The Drought Relief Act provides Reclamation with the tools they need to help states plan for and deal with droughts. Coupled with water recycling and conservation efforts, drought planning readies our communities for future hydrologic challenges.”

Rep. Sablan said, “Climate change is very real to Americans living in the Pacific islands. We are exposed to life-threatening typhoons, which increase in frequency and intensity as the ocean and atmosphere heat up from global warming. Ocean acidification from carbon dioxide in the air threatens the coral reefs that protect our islands and provide tens of millions of dollars in economic benefit from tourism and fishing. And most of our hotels and other development are within a few feet of sea level, vulnerable to rising oceans. Drought is another predictable effect of climate change. The bill we introduce today addresses water shortages for places already suffering and helps the rest of us plan for future drought caused by global warming.”

“With much of the country suffering from drought conditions, Congress can no longer kick the can down the road,” Luján said. “It is time to take action that addresses this severe challenge and provides critical assistance to farmers, ranchers and communities that have been hit especially hard by these warm conditions.”

Under the expired Drought Relief Act of 1991, the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) is allowed to minimize or mitigate drought damages or losses within the 17 Reclamation States including Tribes and Hawaii. According to NOAA, drought has expanded to cover 54 percent of the Hawaiian Islands. The bill also reauthorizes the Drought Relief Act until 2017 and increases the authorization level by $20 million. This year’s drought has cost an estimated $50 billion in damages.

The Bureau of Reclamation is the largest wholesale water supplier in the nation, operating 348 reservoirs with a total storage capacity of 245 million acre-feet of water. These reservoirs provide irrigation water to 10 million acres of farmland through hundreds of miles of canals.

The Natural Resources Committee has jurisdiction over irrigation and reclamation, including water supply for reclamation projects and easements of public lands for irrigation projects; and acquisition of private lands when necessary to complete irrigation projects. As well as the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The text of the legislation can be found here and a one page fact sheet on the bill can be found here